Research and Design

There is something I don’t like about this UXbook.  And there was something in me, which prevented writing research article analysis.  Today’s talk is about it.  And it can be very abstract, which I don’t like. I feel sorry about you who read this.

The academic research and design is both intellectual creative process.  However they differ in the direction they pursue.  The academic research or scientific methods are essentially based on the replicability.  It means if some experiment shows some result, another one who does the same experiment should get same similar result.   So for example, if we conduct user research, and you conduct user research, you and I should make similar conclusion abou the user, for the users are same.  That’s where the assumption of the research lies.

However the design process is all about unique.  If two of the designer shows same design, you have fire one of them.  And it really matters who does it, than which methodology or process he/she uses.  Jonathan Ive is one of most famous designer.  If he designs computer, and I designs computer, it will be very different.  So it is this “Think different”, which is different from scientific method.

So why the designer conducts the user research?  He/she wants to understand the users, to create solution for the user.  Why the designer conducts usability testing?  To get feedback of his/her design to improve it.   The process of the writing persona and the process of the writing usability report is to get an insight.   That’s why hiring other’s to do the usability research or using persona made by other is not right use of the method.  User research and usability testing is not a goal but a tool.   Even if I make 100 persona, my design can still suck if I don’t have such creativity.

However there is some other professional who does the same thing like user research (or more generally market research) and usability testing.  Their goal is to assess the user and the product scientifically.  For these people the user research and usability testing is a goal.  And they usually present it with nice report or scientific paper, with chart and graph.

So what is the problem of the UXBook?  I think there is too less material about the creative design process (Or interaction design) and too much about the UX professional things.   This kind of the detail about the usability testing is just too much.  It is for the report for others, not the designer himself.   Even though there is nothing wrong with the making perfect report, it will take designer’s time and resource, and the perfect report will not help the designer for the designing of great product.  And that is the reason why I don’t feel natural about reading research article.

However after reading chapter 17, the author clear states that these report is for the internal use.  And if it should be for the other people than design team, it should be careful about it use.  Reading this, I began to think maybe I am focusing only on the small domain of the interaction design, where small design team completes the interaction design part and pass it to the dev team.  There maybe other domains, where the engineering part holds the key or it has a large organization where the role of the design is limited in to changing existing designs.   For example, if I am an interaction designer in Google, and if I would like to change the labels, which I think confusing, I can’t tell them change it.  I would have to gather evidence to support my claim like user testing of 100 people showing it is really confusing.   I am beginning to drop my prejudice and be open minded to accept the new learnings from the book.  It is quite refreshing how reading books broadens the understanding.

Add-On to a usability evaluation

Depending on the situation, your big company has an in-house UX lab facility with the respondent database with the team of the facilitator, or moderator.   However there is another situations, you simply don’t have the these resources.  Maybe in some cases, you have to go to the foreign countries to conduct research.  In these cases, it is common practice to use the field research or market research agency for the recruiting and facilities.

I would like to share some experience about these processes using the agencies.  There are many firms specializing in these job.  For example, there is WatchLab in Chicago.  Typically they are located in the prime central place with convenience access and has luxurious interior.  For it is basically real-estate business like hotel business, location is very important.  As you can imagine, the reason is that many people has to visit this place for the first time, and the time & cost to visit this place should be optimal.  So it makes sense to have an office at the down-town prime space.

For the first timer, price is very important for budget planning.  However there is nothing like average cost.  It really depends on the situation.  For example, pilot or medical doctors are expensive.  Smart phone users will be relatively cheap.   However as an example, an incentive for the consumer electronic product can be $100 for two hour.  And you have to pay additional $100 for the recruiting to the agency.  Sometimes you will want a professional facilitator specializing in UX evaluation, which can cost $1200 a day for 4 session of 1 hour long.  The nice rooms with the mirror-window which only researchers can see the participant with lots of AV equipment costs $1000 a day.  And maybe there will be a transcript service for $100 for an hour.  It is extremely busy, so catering maybe a good idea.  Add the sum yourself, and you can find it is not cheap process.

So you know the price, how can make it valuable process?  In my opinion recruiting( and analysis for next time) is very important.  For example, if you are conducting UX evaluation about the smartphone. You would like to include two groups of people, say novice users and advanced users. It will be very tempting to say I would like to recruit novice and advanced users in the meeting with the professional research recruiter. However it is very subjective what constitutes novice and advanced user group. So the busy research recruiter may have an entirely different point of view about the each group, and prepares inadequate samples for the each groups. So it is designer’s role to prepare more numeric and quantitative guideline for the recruiting, which characteristic each group has. Say novice group has less than one year of smartphone usage experience, and uses less than 5 apps daily, with the age group of 40~50, with the equal distribution of the male/female, and does not use social media apps using their smartphone,… and so on. And during the recruiting process, involve with the recruiter actively during the process, and requesting participant survey for confirmation is good idea.

Also in my opinion, determining the right number of participants are not so important than it sounds. More often than not, it is determined by the budget and resources to conduct the research. Remember more energy is required in the analysis of the result. So it is very practical that having a number of the users, designers can personally identify and “View” the entire session (which can be really boring after say 3 person), find the design improvement point, and do an analysis over the session.  I would like to also remark that it is physically demanding task.  Part of the reason is that it may start after say 6pm due to the working participant.

Finally I would like to briefly mention 2 services, which can help during the process.

The first is eye tracking.  For the software review, knowing the pattern of the user’s eye movement can help detect the problematic area, which maybe not available without the use.  It shows the inner working logic of the user mind by showing which area got attention and didn’t.  It is possible to track eyes for the desktop app and mobile app.  Also there is a rental firm of equipment and they also provide total service including the tech personel during the process and analysis report.

The second service is the streaming service.  Sometimes designers or stakeholders are far-away.  By streaming data real-time and providing video archive for the later reference, it is possible to participate during the process.  It also provides stereo channel where left side can be original sound, and right side can be real time translation.

Seduction for the mortgage finance

Yesterday a few graduate student led by the Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu met Mr. John Yuda at the nice restaurant in the indianapolis. Mr. Yuda has been doing interaction design for for the government agency which helps normal people makes an informed decision for the important financial matters like college education or housing mortgage. Mr. Yuda kindly explained his experience and answered questions.

His project was making a website where people can learn more about mortgage product and make wise decision. I was fascinated by the difficulty of the problem. There is two reason why it was difficult. First it try to change the thinking of grownups. You know that adult people is really hard change. For example, smoker will continue smoking no matter what gross image of their lungs is shown. Or how about obesity? Healing obesity is difficult because it requires life style change. Surgery or drug can heal the obesity even though they can help temporarily. Using emotional devices like curiosity and attachment seems relatively effective than the intellectual approach. There is a discipline called persuasive technology, which deals with the issues mainly about this. Games, humor and aesthetics are frequently used device to make change.

However the second reason it was difficult was that they try to teach them very dry subject like financial education. It makes the use of the emotional approach very hard, because it is usually hard for normal people to feel the economics sexy. And it is hard because the end goal is not a pleasant experience but a meaningful experience. This website is not for the entertainment but education. There is a very nice book I am reading recently called “Seductive Interaction Design”. I will blog more about it later. But there is a nice chart showing the hierarchy of the design. It is similar to the paradigms of the design we learned in the class, but has more detail. It shows that achieving meaningfulness is harder than achieving pleasant experience.

So if we suppose this website is human, the tone of the interaction is tricky and important. Also what kind of emotional state we are designing for the readers? I asked Mr. Yuda about it. And he answered even though the team is considering game mechanism also, it should not focus on the fun. It should not be also too erudite. So he proposed a voice of spiritual leader. That seems great.

I always love the interesting problem. So I happen to spend sometime thinking myself, how I would do if I was given the task. I am thinking a metaphor of “economist at the cocktail party”. It’s first time you met him. He seems a plausible guy and try to use the plain language. So you tell him that you are looking for a house to buy. Or considering refinancing the existing contract with excitement which is typical if you buy house. He congratulates and says like this.

“Congratulation!  I have been conducting the case study of housing mortgage for years. There is some interesting story I would like to share, if you don’t mind.

There was a myfriend named Jim. He is a good guy and family man. After he got a baby, he bought a house. He earns about $2000 weekly. But he has to pay $1200 for the mortgage. Even though it was manageable, he couldn’t save any money for later after paying his bill and mortgage. However one day Jim’s car is broken and it costed $800 to fix it.

……… (Here goes all the sad story of Jim)

So it would be wise for the Jim, if he bought a cheaper house with smaller montly payment and save a little for the emergency. It could save him a lot of trouble”

How I translate this experience? Well, I prepared a very simple mockup of website. For I am not a visual designer, and has bad aesthetics, it is ugly. But the thing I would like to express is a “friendly economist at the party” who tells you “story that is interesting and meaningful” with “lots of graphics and fewer text”. I considered using cartoons also, but the government has some style of its own. So a realistic picture seems better.


So that’s the end of the today’s story.  I would like to thank Mr. Yuda and Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu for their kind effort for poor graduate student.  Mr. Yuda’s remark about paying forward is venerable.  And I would like to thank CGT also.  If somebody from the department read this, I would like to remark that after this meeting I began to consider Ph.D in CGT department.  And I would like to mention also that Dr.V was educational all the way and responsible driver also.  I was happy that we had insurance anyway.

Two story about Assumption

About Assumption.
Today I will talk about two short story about assumption.

Todays CGT class was about the user interview. With a limited budget and schedule, which is too typical in IxD, we had to finish the user interview in 3 hour with no budget. Dr. Vorvoreanu wanted us to find the ways to improve CGT website to increase the minority-ethnographic portion of the students.

So we worked in the rush and vigor, which is also too typical in the Dr.Vorvoreanu’s class. We made a turn to be an interviewer and an interviewee. When my turn has arrived, I happened to interview Stewart. We had already a few fruitless interviews with the local american males, who had never used CGT website as an aid for the decision for the admission for the Purdue CGT. Anyway they have finished their undergraduate here, and know everything about the department, so why do he care about the contents of the website so that more minority international students will be interested? So I declared it’s the end of the interview after first question. I was thinking that I will save time in this fruitless interview and will have more time in more potentially fruitful interview with say ,a Chinese woman. But I was wrong. First, I was the last. There will be no more interview. So I continued anyway. And I found that he knew and articulated about the CGT so well that he provided very valuable insight about how to improve the site by providing more appealing research sample of professor to the potential student. That was my first assumption. Though he was not our target user group, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to interview him.

The second assumption is more subtle. During the meeting with the Stewart, he mentioned that we should consider intellectual diversity more than the ethnographic diversity. I liked his point, and it made sense to question the fundamental assumption. Why do we have to increase the minority ethnographic share at first? What does the stake holder get from it? So I questioned Dr.Vorvoreanu about it, for she was the only stake holder in hand. It turned out the major push behind this was government, who wanted diversity. And you know what? What was important was the diversity between Americans like African or hispanic American. So all of our effort about how we can increase the interest of the Chinese or Korean or Indian girls to the CGT, found to be useless or out of the point, for we had an assumption about the “ethnographic diversity”. If we had the stake holder interview before this, we would prevent from this. That’s where the established process shines. And why Dr.Vorvoreanu could not explain this at first more specifically? In my opinion, it can be politically incorrect to say something like that in public, like the government pushes it and the ratio of african American graduate student is too low. So that’s why stake interview should be held in small setting where one can express their opinion more freely.

So that was the two assumption which was wrong today. We rely heavily on assumption in our daily life. However it is really hard to see it is assumption when the assumption is really nice and applies to almost all situation. It is like it is hard for us to perceive that there is an air, before there is no air.

As a human being, we all have assumptions. It means it is inevitable that we, interaction designer, will have some when we are doing user research. Though it is inevitable, it is important that we perceive that what we have is an assumption and check and evaluate it with real world data.  And now I remember from the readings they mentioned something like that.  So from the reading and real experience it becomes more clear now.

As a young man I always make mistakes. And what I like about University is that it is relatively safe place to make mistake. We can learn from the failure as much as we can from the success. But what is important is not repeating the same mistakes. Being a person with a humble memory myself, I hope this blogging and reflection helps me remember.

Innovation talk by Doug Field

Yesterday there was an innovation talk by Doug Field, who is VP Product design for Apple.  I attended it.  Surprisingly I could learn things what I didn’t anticipated, and couldn’t learn what hoped.

Okay, so “what I couldn’t learn” part first, for it is first, because it is short.  There was no info about iphone 5.  Somebody asked it, but couldn’t get the answer.  And all audience was told not to take pictures and notes at all to keep secret where there is no secret! Actually I don’t believe that there will be a lot of innovation in iphone 5.  Unless Apple has an UFO technology, the innovation in this fierce competitive field is limited.  Apple did great job when they introduced IPhone first, thus freeing us from the big network provider like At&T, which was really bad at making useful thing and only good at keeping their gate.  But now it is given.  And the company like Google and Samsung is working hard to keep up.  Although I am sure , I will buy another IPhone for the all investment I made in the system, if I were new comer, it will be hard to select if other guy is really cheap.

Anyway, here is “what I learned” part which I think get interesting.  The talk is divided into two part.  Part one is general advice for the career and second part is about working in Apple.  The talk began with the quotation of the Darwin, “the survival of the fittest”.  Doug pointed that there is two preceding condition, which is “mutation” and the “the nature produces more than that can survive”.

For mutation, what he means try to keep diverse interest, which someday somehow can lead to the work he/she do.  A nice example was the music.  Doug played horn and liked music.  That domain expertise came useful when he designed the gear ratio of segway. By designing the gear box ratio to be harmonic, segway can produce pleasant sound.  Another example was perfect symmetrical fan of new Apple laptop, which will produce noise of pleasant tone, rather than white noise tone of asymmetrical fan used in conventional laptop.  So he suggested that we keep our interest open.  As Steve Jobs said “You can never know how the dots will connect before.”

And for the “Nature produces more than that can survive” part, he means failure.  And he suggested we should get used to failure, because without them it is impossible to achieve the great leap.  A famous quote from David Kelly like “Fail fast, to succeed fast” was given.

And here comes the following “Working in the apple” part, which is basically commercial.  He told that what Apple is distinguished from other company for their obsessive, impulsive, pathological adherence to the detail to make something perfect.  I can’t agree more.  I think, at least among the computer makers, they are the only one who really loves their product.  For others, it is a just work to make living.  You know that computers are basically same.  They buy same component from same vendors and manufactures it in the same Chinese factory.  And even for the low priced netbook, it is actually the 3rd party manufactures that makes the variation of the product, and big brands just select one of them, and paste their logo.  However Apple sometimes go to the extreme even silly economical decision to make perfect product like no standard screws.

However their passion remind me the more of the traditional asian value like master craftsmanship.  Today chinese product is regarded as cheap dispensable product.  But historically China has been a world leader for a long time than any other country and it resulted in lots of arts crafts, which the maker put their soul on them.  My favorite example is this ivory sculpture.


I found it at the hotel Treasure Island at Las Vegas.  The note besides it says that it takes so long time to make this sculpture, that there is a generation of family or union of workers working on this.  Think about the craftsman whose job is for all life sculpturing this.   I assume his only motivation was making perfect thing.   It is quite interesting to see the same kind of passion in the consumer electronic product.

But when we think about the volume of the product, their strategy works.  I mean the initial cost of designing can be justified when the cost can be divided by the large quantity.  Everybody wins.  The consumer can have a great product at reasonable price while the company can earn enough to compensate for the R&D.  It explains why Apple makes very few product for their company size.

One good question was when to stop optimization.  Though no silver bullet, his good insight was we should know the fundamentals more.  If a thing is a little better than the previous product, should we stop? No, said Doug.  Maybe when the law of physics or mechanics says, it is theoretically minimum, it will be good place to stop.

And finally, I gave a question for the class of whether apple conduct usability test?  There was a discussion about it.  The answer was yes and no.  But basically ‘No’.  According to Doug, the consumer can tell us what they hate, but they cannot provide solution or even decide which is better solution when given choice .  So they conduct usability test to test previous product or competitor’s product.  But they never ask user what is better iphone 5 design ,showing them 3~4 mockups.  They think it’s designer’s job to find best solution for user, like it’s a doctor’s job to find best treatment for the patients.

Fear, Job Security, Creativity, The hierarchy of needs by Maslow, Finland, Nokia

The recent post by Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu and the following discussion by Xin Cindy Chen evoked an idea inside me.  And I would like to share it others to enable more thinking by group interaction.

For a few years, I was constantly monitoring the Finland.  An interest to the Finland is not uncommon in South Korea.  Since the interesting result from PISA was published, there is many buzz about Finland with many books, TV programs.  Anyway maniac interest to the education is one typical characteristic of Korean.  Many comparison has been made between Finish and Korean education system.  The majority of the idea was we have to learn Finish system, which encourages voluntary participation in students.  Anyone who has experience in education will understand how hard to have a voluntary and participatory students.

Even though I totally agree with the finish education philosophy, my main view had a slightly different perspective.   I was looking at the Nokia.  For many reasons, Finland is similar to the S.Korea and different from Sweden or Norway, where there is proliferate natural resources like oil.  They were poor before Nokia became so successful.  And the welfare costs money.  The famous welfare system and high income of people in Finland requires constant stream of the money outside the Finland, where Nokia could serve.  Really bad way of explaining this is, the Indian Bus driver and Finish Bus driver does almost same thing.  However the high paying Nokia employee gives their money to the Bus driver.  So that’s why Finish drivers earn so much better.  However as people talks about the wonderful success story of the Apple, there is sad failure story of the Nokia.

So it was the background.  Now as the Nokia declines and with the world economic crisis, I was studying Finland about how they react.  Do they fail like that the welfare reside with the increasing neo-nazi?  How they react to the this challenge?

Well before I proceed with my judgment about their reaction, here is anti-dote.

– I am an outsider of Finland economy with superficial understanding

– The Finish economy is large thing to judge and even this financial crisis is not yet ended

Anyway here follows my judgement.  Many people left Nokia, and began their own company.  Some failed while some succeeded.  Some even say that this is even better situation for Finland.  For it reduces a systemic risk, by not relying on a single component.

You may check this yourself from the experts.


Financial Times

Business Week


Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

This is the half of the my blog post.  I am sorry it becomes so long.  I will try to be short in the following argument.

Why many people can leave the Nokia without fear?  Because there was social security that supports your minimum living that includes healthcare, cost of living, and education.  So they could pursue their motivation without worrying that your family will suffer.  I will call this as motivation-driven society.  And what is the opposite of motivation-driven society?  Well it is the fear-driven society.  This society moves with its own mechanism that if you don’t work hard, you will suffer inhumanely.  As with everything in the world, it is prudent to say even fear-driven society has its own place with own strength and weakness.

One way of explaining relationship between the motivation-driven society to the fear-driven society is using the hierarchy of needs by Maslow.  He categorized human needs up to 5 to 7 level:

1. Biological and Physiological needs

2. Safety needs

3. Belongingness and Love needs

4. Esteem needs

5. Cognitive needs

6. Aesthetic needs

7. Self-Actualisation needs

The fear for the job security lies in the between level 1(physiological) and 2(safety), depending on the welfare.  Actually it can be elevated more but then it changes from fear to the motivation.  Using this diagram, my conclusion is that Finland is successful even with the failure of Nokia, for it provides its member a basic social safety so that its member can pursue higher needs without fear.

I think this explains a little about the comment by Dr.V that even US is not satisfactory in tolerating failure.  I agree.  US is good while Finland is one of best, while Korea needs more.

And one last comment for the Xin Cindy Chen.  I think there is more failed creative people than successful creative people.  The question is not whether it is required for being successful but whether it is worth trying.  Everybody dies.  It will be nice, if we can contribute to our society and leaves a honorary name for it.  It is highest level of the needs.  The problem is at some society lower needs are already given that we can focus on the higher level while at some society, we can’t ignore lower needs.